Site Etiquette:What is okay to do and not okay to do at an archaeology site?

Site Etiquette

Many archaeological sites are unintentionally damaged by visitors who come to enjoy and learn from them. Following these site etiquette guidelines * will help reduce damage to fragile sites and will help to save the past for the future.

  • All of the things you see at a site are evidence of the lives of people who once lived there so it is important that you do not move or disturb anything from the site. If you see an interesting artifact you can examine it, draw it, or photograph it, but it is very important that you put it back in the same spot where you found it.
  • Be careful not to step on artifacts or middens (ancient trash pits that look like dark stains in the soil).
  • Don’t lean sit or stand or climb on prehistoric walls.
  • Staying on established paths or trails will help control erosion and preserve the site.
  • Modern trash can contaminate the soil of an archaeological site so be sure not to toss an apple core, banana peel or cigarette. Food can attract animals, which can be very destructive to sites.
  • Place your campsite away from archaeological sites. Campfires produce charcoal that can confuse radiocarbon dates of an archaeological site, and food attracts animals that may dig or nest on the site.
  • Pets can be very destructive to archaeological sites—leave your pooch behind when you are visiting a site.  

* These guidelines were adapted from those developed by the U.S. Forest Service

What to do if you find an artifact

  • Leave the artifact where you found it but record as much information as possible about the location and the description of the artifact. It is useful to draw or photograph the object, and record its location on a map.
  • Share the information with a professional archaeologist. If you are visiting a state or national park, inform a park ranger, naturalist, or interpreter.  Each state has a historic preservation office that records the location of archaeological sites. You can find the contact information for your state on the web site of the National Association of State Archaeologists

Learn More About It….

There are many ways to get involved in archaeology and learn more about it. 

  • Join a local chapter of your state archaeological society. Some societies now offer avocational certification programs.
  • Participate in some of the activities your state sponsors during archaeology week each year including site tours, lectures, and hands-on archaeology activities.
  • Volunteer!  Some states have Site Steward programs that use volunteers to monitor sites and record changes to them.  Archaeological societies and often welcome volunteers to help record, survey or excavate sites. The US Forest Service and National Park Service also sponsor volunteer programs. 

For more information about these programs and activities contact the Society for American Archaeology, 202/789-8200,



page updated 11/02/2011